Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Suffragettes and the Old Brown Dog

When Mrs Pankhurst spoke at a suffrage meeting in Battersea Town Hall with local suffragette Charlotte Despard, she was puzzled by hecklers' calls for “the old brown dog”. Who was the old brown dog, and what connection did it have with the campaign for female suffrage?


The old brown dog was the victim of vivisection at the hands of Professor William Bayliss (1860–1924) at University College London in 1903. Two female students witnessed  the procedure: Louise Lind-af-Hageby (1878–1963) and Liesa Schartau. Louise Lind-af-Hageby was born in Sweden but settled in England in 1902. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College before going on to study medicine with her friend Liesa Schartau. 

The women noticed that the dog had already been subjected to one procedure. The law at that time forbade the use of an animal for more than one experiment; it had to be destroyed. They reported the incident to Stephen Coleridge (1854–1936) of the Anti-vivisection Society, who publicly accused Professor Bayliss of breaking the law. Professor Bayliss sued Coleridge for libel, claiming that the dog had been under anaesthetic during the operation and when it was destroyed afterwards. The Professor won substantial damages. 

Anti-vivisectionists had lost the case but they were determined not to forget the old brown dog. In 1906 they erected a statue in Battersea in memory of “the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February, 1903…[and] 232 dogs Vivisected at the same place during the year 1902”. During what became known as the Brown Dog Riots of 1907, medical students from London’s University College and Middlesex Hospital attempted to destroy the statue on 20 November and again on 25 November. On 10 December the London students held a pro-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square where fights broke out between them and working men. They also interrupted anti-vivisection meetings: one hundred students broke furniture, fought and threw smoke bombs at one gathering in Acton on December 1907, and students rioted at another meeting in Battersea on 15 January 1908.  

But why attack suffrage meetings? The reason was that many people at the time saw suffragists and anti-vivisectionists as members of the same movement. Indeed, the connections were there for those who wished to make them. Charlotte Despard, who was present at the unveiling of the statue, was Honorary Secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The founder of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Frances Power Cobbe  (1822–1904), was also a campaigner for women’s rights. Batheaston WSPU supporter Mrs Blathwayt remarked in her diary that many suffragettes were vegetarian. Louise Lind-af-Hageby, who campaigned against vivi-section for the remainder of her life, herself linked the two causes as elements of a new humanitarianism which was opposed to cruelty and oppression.  

In fact, not all suffragists were anti-vivisectionists, but the belief that the two campaigns were connected was unshakeable. The students showed the same hostility to suffragettes as they did to anti-vivisectionists. In London they interrupted suffrage meetings with cries of “Down with the old dog”. Their antagonism to the cause of women's suffrage was followed by students elsewhere, including in Bristol where on 3 April 1908 Bristol medical students heckled Mrs Pankhurst at the Victoria Rooms. On 24 November 1909 students rushed the platform in Colston Hall where Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst were speaking. An attempt to wreck the Anti-Vivisection Shop in Queen’s Road was foiled, but in 1913 Bristol students were more successful when they launched a similar attack on the WSPU shop, also in Queen’s Road, looting and burning the premises.     

In 1910 the statue of the Old Brown Dog was removed and destroyed to prevent further student rioting. In December 1985 actress Geraldine James unveiled a new brown dog memorial in Battersea Park which had been commissioned by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) and the National Anti-vivisection Society. It is this statue (pictured above) you can see today. 
 

For the full story read Coral Lansbury’s fascinating book The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England (Winsconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985)

Read about the Old Brown Dog Statue at the Friends of Battersea Park website, http://www.batterseapark.org/art/sculpture/brown-dog-statue/
 
Find out more about the anti-visisection movement at the BUAV website - http://www.buav.org/

 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Late an Officer in the British Navy

One of the voyage accounts I read while writing my novel To the Fair Land was The Adventures of Mark Moore: late an officer in the British Navy (1795).* Moore combined a naval career in British, American, Tuscan, Portuguese and Swedish services with a career in the theatre as an actor manager, touring Britain, France and Flanders. His was a rackety, wandering life which zigzagged between the sea and the stage, and from prosperity to bankruptcy.

Moore was born in Boston, America in 1739. His father had emigrated from Ireland and was a wine merchant. He died when Moore was three. When the boy was thirteen he was sent to near-by Cambridge to study. “I did not waste much of the midnight oil,” he confessed. He was much more interested in spending time with Hallam’s theatrical company which was touring in Rhodes Island. Stage-struck, Moore ran away to join the company when they went to Barbados.

Hallam’s company, founded by Lewis Hallam (1714-1756) and his wife (?-1773), was the first notable acting company to tour in North America. Lewis Hallam came from a family of actors. His mother was an actress and his elder brother ran a theatre in Goodman’s Fields. The Hallams formed the London Company of Comedians in 1752, and set sail for the British colonies in the same year. Lewis Hallam died in 1754 on a trip to Jamaica and his wife married David Douglass, who took over the company and took it back to New York in 1758, as the American Company Troupe.  

A family friend’s attempt to persuade Moore to go home met with refusal, but the young man did agree to enter the Navy as a midshipman. He was injured in an engagement with a French privateer. His skull was fractured and trepanned – the ship’s surgeon drilled a hole in the bone so that the wound could be cleaned. Though he was forbidden alcohol after the operation, he credited his recovery to the punch he persuaded a marine to smuggle in to him.   

Moore’s sea-going career went on to include a spell in a privateer as a surgeon’s mate, when he discovered that the surgeon had no more medical experience than he did himself. The surgeon had been a wood-cutter, and two men bled to death when  he attempted to carry out amputations. Moore later did a stint on a Bristol slaver as ship’s surgeon – his only qualification being this time as surgeon’s mate to the wood-cutter. Moore threw his own slave, who he called Ranger, overboard after the boy was shot in the stomach to spare him, he said, a tormenting death. Moore records that Ranger was “kissing his feet at his last moments”. For a time Moore operated as an American privateer harrying British ships, for which he was taken prisoner. In the 1790s he worked for the British Navy again, transporting pressed men.

His equally chequered theatrical career was resumed after his marriage to his first wife who he met at a ball in Worcester. They eloped the next day. The couple embarked on a wandering theatrical career throughout the UK. For a time they toured the west country performing Italian songs, calling themselves Signora and Signor Morini. They had one son who joined the French army and died at about the same time as Mrs Moore.

Moore saw the inside of a prison on more than one occasion. In the Midlands he was mistaken for a highwayman and arrested. In 1793, shortly after his second marriage to the landlady of his Liverpool lodgings, he ended up in debtors’ prison where he survived by making and selling model ships. He was in prison for seven months and eventually discharged. Back in Liverpool, with old age and poverty staring him in the face, Moore wrote his autobiography in the belief that “a British audience, and British readers, never fail to pardon, even where they cannot praise”. 

Moore’s narrative is interspersed with songs, Latin verses, a translation from a French novel and topographical information. There’s theatrical gossip, with some name dropping thrown in  – Garrick, Linley, Sheridan. A “Russian anecdote” tells the story of how Peter the Great disguised himself and joined a gang of rebels to foil their plot to assassinate him. How many of Moore’s stories are true, how many are tall, and how many are seaman’s yarns, it is impossible to say!

*I wrote about another American mariner, Aaron Thomas, in “A Crude and Cruel Age” on 4 June 2012.

 The Memoirs and Adventures of Mark Moore, Late an Officer in the British Navy, Written by Himself  (London, 1795)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Festive October in Bristol, Bath and Cheltenham

So the Bristol Literature Festival 2012 is over – and I almost wish it could have gone on for ever! (Though I’m sure the hard-working volunteer organisers must be glad they can have a well-deserved rest now.) It was a fantastic week of events with some great authors giving talks and readings – Helen Dunmore, Emylia Hall, Iain M Banks and many others. The programme was a mix of poetry, short stories, readings, sessions for writers, events for readers, activities for children and more. This was the second Festival and I’m already looking forward to the third.

 My particular interest is in historical fiction so I thoroughly enjoyed the two events I attended. The first was Michรจle Roberts, Georgina Harding and Patricia Ferguson who read from their books and discussed their work afterwards. Many themes were touched on, especially war and its impact on non-combatants. A couple of nights later I saw Andrew Miller and Clare Clark, who answered questions about their work and its relationship to history.    

On the last day of the Festival, 20 October, I was delighted to be one of a panel of historical novelists discussing some issues around writing historical fiction. With me were internationally-published author Helen Hollick (whose work includes an Arthurian trilogy,  a series on pirates, and books on King Harold) and Jenny Barden (whose debut novel, Mistress of the Sea, has just been published). Helen Hart, author and publisher of SilverWood Books, chaired the meeting and kept us in order. The topics we covered were the place of historical research in historical fiction, how historical novelists can tap into support and community networks, and the historical novel and self-publishing.
 

·         For those who were unable to attend the historical fiction panel on 20 October, hand-outs from the talk will shortly be available on SilverWood Books’ Learning Zone.

 
In fact, October has been a wonderful season for literature. I managed to see Richard Ford  in Bath as part of Topping and Co’s literature festival. The author came with lunch as well – so not only a brilliant reading but excellent food too!

And I was thrilled when my historical novel, To The Fair Land, was chosen to feature in the Locally Sourced series at Cheltenham Literary Festival. I did a reading in the Festival bookshop on 8 October, and also fitted in a fascinating talk by Llewellyn Morgan on his book about the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

For more information about the historical fiction panellists see:-

Helen Hollick’s website http://www.helenhollick.net/
Jenny Barden’s website http://www.jennybarden.com/
Lucienne Boyce’s website http://www.lucienneboyce.com/
Helen Hart at SilverWood Books http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/

Bristol Festival of Literature  - http://unputdownable.org/ 
Topping & Co Booksellers of Bath - http://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/ 
Llewellyn Morgan can be found on Twitter -  https://twitter.com/llewelyn_morgan

 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Strange Carryings On

I’ve just read The Weekes Family Letters, the correspondence between Hampton Weekes (1780-1855) during his time as a student at St Thomas’s Hospital in 1801-2, to his family at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex. Hampton Weekes came from a medical family: his father and younger brother Dick were both doctors (surgeon-apothecaries). His Father Richard had studied at St Thomas’s before him, and Dick was due to study there when Hampton had finished. His mother was dead and his step-mother Elizabeth died in 1802. She brought with her a daughter, Fanny. Hampton also had two sisters, Mary Ann and Grace, who with their step-sister helped run the family’s medical practice.

Besides being illuminating about the practice of medicine and the attitudes and beliefs of eighteenth-century practitioners and patients, the letters give a vivid insight into the life of a close and affectionate family. (The exception is the step-mother, who the Weekes children were not particularly fond of.)  They share advice on what to wear, who to make friends with, medical case histories, and local gossip. They discuss the weather (the Thames is “frozen over in part” in January 1802), horses, tenants, the family business. Hampton’s father scolds him about overspending and going too often to the theatre. It’s the ordinariness of the letters that opens the family’s life up to you, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the detail of what they sent back and forth to one another by carrier.
 
While Hampton was in London he was given all sorts of commissions from his family, and “Knowles’s waggon” was kept busy transporting goods ranging from the homely to the bizarre. A new carpet for the best parlour “that will not show the Dirt”, a chamber-pot stand,  a sofa. Fish – not the sort people eat but counters for games – made of ivory, bone or mother of pearl, they came in various shapes, but fish-shaped ones were most popular.  

For his brother Dick, who was interested in mineralogy and botany, came fossils, shells, plant cuttings, the “snout of a sawfish” killed off the west coast of Africa, an elephant’s jaw, and “philosophical ink” – invisible ink. For his sisters fashion advice – ladies are wearing “hair tippets forming a triangle upon, or between ye. shoulders”.  Also for the girls lace, sheet music, and a shawl which they divided between them.
 
Food and drink featured a great deal. From London came a 60 pound-tub of “cambridge butter, excellent for toast”, a barrel of oysters which “I would advise you to eat the evening they arrive”, coconut, figs.  To London from the country came hares and pheasants, pears (“eat them as soon as ever they are ripe”), hogs pudding, sausages, apples, and empty barrels to be filled with porter and sent back.
 
Being a medical family, it’s only natural that Hampton was given orders for medicines and equipment. He sent James Powders, a thermometer, blister salve, forceps, scalpels. He also sent human body parts. Most of them were dissected and prepared by Hampton himself. A femur. A leg and foot – Hampton was going to throw them away but thought he might as well dissect them. An entire “Skelleton”. The testis of a London Bridge watchman – as this specimen was “offensive we could not keep it in the surgery”, Hampton’s father told him. A box of bones with instructions on macerating and bleaching them. The bones of a sailor aged about 30 who died from “inflamm. Of ye. Mucose membrane lining ye. Trachea”.   A stomach. To his friend William Borrer a female skeleton “by the Cobham stage” – what an image this conjures!  
 
Eighteenth-century carriers must have been a tolerant breed. Or perhaps they didn’t bother to enquire too closely about what was packed in the baskets and boxes they transported. Imagine the consequences of one of these packages being lost, stolen or falling off the back of the wagon, especially in an age when people detested dissection of corpses and riots against it were not unknown. I can’t imagine Royal Mail showing the same tolerance today!
 
A Medical Student at St Thomas’s Hospital, 1801-1902: The Weekes Family Letters, John M T Ford, (Medical History, Supplement No 7), (London, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1987).

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wild Oats

I went to see Wild Oats by John O’Keefe at Bristol Old Vic last night (17 September 2012). It was a real treat to be back in the Old Vic after its refurbishment. It now has a “pit” instead of stalls, but the seats are new and much more comfortable than the old ones, and in place of the dusty carpet there's an oak floor. The painted and gilded theatre looks lovely, and the names of many great actors and playwrights lettered on the walls – Cibber, Vanbrugh, Shakespeare, Steele – evokes its great heritage. The design is based on the eighteenth-century configuration of the theatre – balconies, colours, stage – but is fully modern too. So its inaugural production is a modern reworking of the 1791 play by John O’Keefe.

Wild Oats was written by Irish playwright John O’Keefe (1747 – 1833). Originally an artist, O’Keefe became a writer when his eye sight began to fail. He was blind by 1781. He left Ireland and his unfaithful wife in 1781, and during his writing career produced farces, pantomimes and comic operas.

Wild Oats is a beautifully plotted comedy which manages to bring together so many different strands to great comic effect: deserting sailors, a lady-turned-Quaker who lets her hair down when she falls in love, a missing husband and mislaid son, a selfish yeoman hounding an impoverished clergyman into debt, disguises, a play within a play, plenty of Shakespeare. It’s wonderful to see how these all come together in the last scene in the classic happy ending.

The play has been updated to the 1950s – so the programme tells us, but I have to confess that without that clue I wouldn’t have known that it was set in any particular time. In fact, I found the setting distracting at the start, in particular the opening motorcycle chase. Noisy and slapsticky, it seemed to bear little relation to the rest of the play, and I couldn’t see how the 1950s fitted at all with the drama. Again, the programme tells us that it was inspired by the “bleak world of 1950s touring theatre”.

Even so, it wasn’t until things got going towards the middle of the first act that I was able to forget about the setting and enjoy the exuberance, energy, and enthusiasm of the performers. Sam Alexander gave us a lovely Jack Rover, whose basic decency and passion for Shakespeare and the theatre really came alive, and Hugh Skinner a wonderfully weepy Harry Thunder. Jo Herbert’s Lady Amaranth was endearing, and Emily May Smith a suitably cheeky maid servant. Though it seems unfair to pick out individual actors  – I thought they were all wonderful and played really well together! A lovely play and it’s wonderful to have our Old Vic back.


Wild Oats by John O’Keefe is on at Bristol Old Vic 4 September to 20 October 2012. For details see http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/wildoats.html

 

 

 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Women's Will Beats Asquith's Won't

On 12 November 1911 I wrote a blog about Constance Maud’s 1911 suffragette novel No Surrender, republished by Persephone Press. I picked out the events described in Chapter IX, where three women accost cabinet ministers during a village church service. I suggested that this episode might be related to a real incident in Lympne, Kent on 5 September 1909, when Prime Minister Asquith was accosted by Elsie Howey, Vera Wentworth, and Jessie Kenney. I wondered “if Maud had this incident in mind when she wrote her novel. Perhaps there is another minister-accosting-at-church incident I don’t know about…The point is that what took place in reality at Lympne was much more violent than the gently amusing incident Maud presents in her story.”

I’ve now discovered that there was another minister-accosting-at-church-incident involving Asquith prior to the Lympne attack, and from the details it seems that this is a more likely inspiration for the incident in the novel. It took place in Clovelly, Devon in 1909, before the 29 June 1909 deputation, when the same three women – Elsie Howey, Vera Wentworth, and Jessie Kenney – followed Asquith to the village church. Jessie Kenney recalled that Asquith’s wife passed him a note to warn him of the suffragettes’ presence – as does one of the women in Maud’s novel. When he had read the note, Asquith left the church by a side door: in the novel one MP leaves by the main door, the other through a window. The next morning Asquith’s house party woke to find the garden decorated with WSPU slogans, including a plea that he receive the deputation on 29 June. (He did not receive the deputation, Government office windows were broken in protest, and one and hundred and eight women were arrested.) In the novel the garden is festooned with “winding ribbons bearing the inscriptions, ‘Votes for Women’, – ‘Dare to be free’, – ‘No Surrender’.”  

Asquith was not harmed in Clovelly, but by the time the novel came out in November 1911 the Lympne assault had taken place. In fact, he came increasingly under personal attack as the campaign proceeded. His daughter Violet’s correspondence contains several references to incidents like the “melee with Suffragettes” at Charing Cross in 1912 when she “had the pleasure of giving one an ugly wrist-twist!”. 

Enormous lengths were gone to in order to protect the Prime Minister and other Liberal MPs. They were given police escorts, streets were cordoned off around premises at which they were speaking, venues were searched before meetings began, and women were banned from attending. The politicians’ temerity brought down ridicule on their heads, and not only from the suffragettes. A Punch cartoon of 5 February 1913 shows Asquith cowering behind a floral display at a ball to avoid a suffragist, and a 1913 comic postcard of “A Grand Members Concert” at the House of Commons notes that “Mr Asquith will (before singing) WAIT & SEE if there are any Suffragettes about”. Home Secretary Mr McKenna is also noted as appearing “By kind permission of the Suffragettes”.

Women’s Will Beats Asquith’s Won’t was a slogan used on bannerettes carried during the WSPU demonstration on 18 November 1910 protesting at Asquith’s refusal of facilities for a Conciliation Bill – known as Black Friday because of the police’s brutal treatment of the women. Two women later died from their injuries.


For more information from Persephone Books about No Surrender -  http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/pages/titles/index.asp?id=149

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Crude and Cruel Age

I’ve been reading the Newfoundland Journal of Aaron Thomas, Able Seaman in HMS Boston. The voyage, which Thomas embarked on at the age of 32, lasted from 1794 to 1795. The Journal is a fascinating insight into life on board ship from an ordinary sailor’s viewpoint, especially as Thomas is good company for a reader. He’s lively and funny, takes a keen interest in everything about him, and has a good eye for an anecdote. He’s just the sort of eighteenth-century seaman I could make a hero of in a novel.

So I thought until I was reminded with a shock that Thomas was, indeed, of the eighteenth century. It happened that he was staying in a public house in Portugal Cove in Newfoundland. Here, seeing a pile of live lobsters, he hit on a trick to give him and the company “recreation and mirth”. With the landlady’s help he and his companions began “the frolic” by hanging live lobsters on a horse’s tail and mane. They then put four live lobsters on a cat’s tail: “The moment the Claws embrac’d her Tail her tumultous outcry put some of our Companions to flight”. They put the cat on the horse’s back where “she stuck her elastic fangs up to the hilt in the Horse’s back”. The horse (having broken wind first) “kicking and thundering, the Cat clawing and squawling…took to its heels with the Cat on its back, crying and scratching every step the poor animal took, increasing his terror and scarefaction”.

The horse’s course led him through “ragged Rocks and broken stones” and for a moment Thomas was “under considerable anxiety for his neck”. However, “when the convulsion of laughter was a little moderated the people assur’d me that there was no cause for alarm”. Then, “the Horse and Catt being out of sight the bustle they had occasion’d was more moderated” and so Thomas went in for his supper and so to bed.

And the horse, cat and lobsters? Who knows what became of them. But I couldn’t sleep for thinking of this act of savage cruelty. Did the horse fall down and break its leg on the “ragged Rocks”? Did it collapse with exhaustion? Did it and the cat die somewhere in the wild with their wounds untreated, in agony and terror?

Yet Thomas was not an insensitive man. He writes feelingly of friendship, the tragedy of war, charity, his nightmares and anxieties. It was quite usual in the eighteenth century for ordinary people to commit acts of dreadful cruelty. It was an age when a man could campaign against the slave trade, but fight to prevent legislation to ban bear and bull baiting (William Wyndham); when Dukes enjoyed betting on fighting cocks armed with sharpened spurs to intensify the injuries the birds could inflict on one another; when a gentleman always made a day out of the Newgate executions and never missed his weekly trips to the badger baiting.

Which all reminded me how artificial historical fiction is, for all the anxiety of its writers and readers to achieve what is called “accuracy”. If I were to write about my witty, funny sailor accurately, I couldn’t leave out the horse and cat or the numerous other cruelties and crudities that litter his narrative. But who would make a hero of such a man? Who would like him? I wouldn’t. To make him palatable I’d have to omit these character traits, de-emphasise these horrible habits of his era. Or, I’d have to dress them up with a bit of modern-style humanity – make Thomas a reluctant participant, for example, or replay the myth that such things were only the sport of the ignorant masses. Or, I’d have to distance my modern self from them, perhaps by making a conscious effort to understand them on their own terms, or by using them to critique the same cruelties that are still committed in our own age.

But hang on, I hear creative writing tutors up and down the land chorus, aren’t there rich seams of contradiction to be mined here? Well, yes and no. Because to men like Aaron Thomas they were not contradictions. They were just what people did. That doesn’t mean he didn’t know it was cruel – he did (“the poor animal”). But that didn’t stop him. He had a good laugh.

Of course you can write about an unpopular, cruel or wicked man, but to do so you have to find something that humanises him, something that shows another side of his character. Make him complicated. Make him a victim of circumstances. Make him a loveable rogue. Make him love his dear old mum. But, for his era, Aaron Thomas was not an especially unpopular, cruel or wicked man. It would be very easy to make a character based on him who would appeal to the modern reader. But if I told the reality, if I wrote about the cat and the horse in the spirit in which the event was in fact played out, he just wouldn’t.


The Newfoundland Journal of Aaron Thomas: Able Seaman in HMS Boston,ed. by Jean M Murray (London: Longmans, 1968

The title “A Crude and Cruel Age” and the examples in the fifth paragraph are taken from Bareknuckles: A Social History of Prize-Fighting by Dennis Brailford (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1988)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Save the Women's Library

Friends of the Women's Library received an email today updating them on the position with regard to London Metropolitan University's announcement on Wednesday 14 March that they will be seeking a new home, custodian or sponsor of The Women’s Library’s collections. For the announcement see
http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/

The Women’s Library is now seeking a new home. If it does not find one by December 2012 it will have to drastically cut its opening hours to one day a week for three years, with a review of the situation thereafter. The email, from the Executive Secretary of the Women’s Library, states that, “The position of the Library is very serious indeed”.

The Women’s Library is a vital resource for anyone interested in women’s history. Arguments in support of why it should be saved can be found at the Save the Women’s Library blog by the London Metropolitan University Branch of Unison - http://savethewomenslibrary.blogspot.co.uk/

What we can do:-

Sign the “Rudi’s Save Our Libraries Campaign” started by a member of library staff at the University, which includes a petition on the care2 petition site - www.thepetitionsite.com/925/128/986/save-the-womens-library-at-london-metropolitan-university - it has attracted over 5,500 signatures to date.

If you are not already a Friend of the Women’s Library, become one now! It’s only £15 a year. See http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/support-us/friends.cfm

Attend the AGM of the Friends of the Women’s Library on 28 June when the Deputy Chief Executive of the University, Paul Bowler, will be attending to bring us up to date on developments.

If you have any suggestions of potential custodians of the Women’s Library email the Women’s Library: moreinfo@thewomenslibrary.ac.uk

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Madness in the margins

I have a copy of Sir Almroth E Wright’s 1913 The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage in which an early or the original reader has pencilled copious notes. I don’t know the reader’s name, as I can’t read his (from the comments it certainly is “his”) signature. I am fascinated by the reader’s jottings for the light they shed on attitudes and beliefs of the time, and also for the more intriguing personal hints they give of a man whose relationships with women were, to say the least, troubled. What’s also interesting is that there are two sets of notes, the first dated 1913, and the second 1922, when a partial female franchise had been granted. The subject mattered so much to the reader that he revisited it four years after the first female franchise!

Here are some excerpts from the dialogue between these two anti-suffragists:-

Sir A: The grateful woman will practically always be an anti-suffragist.

Reader (R): (grateful woman underlined). Are there any? Certainly not amongst those who are loved and treated well – there might be if an opposite course were taken. This I do not know.

Sir A: But one wonders why it has not been proposed…to make of a woman…a judge, or an ambassador, or a Prime Minister.

R: This would I think be the eventual result [of giving women the vote] but before it was found out and put right what sort of plight would the British Empire have come to?!! (With a note dated 1922 “They can now be in the House of Commons, House of Lords, be magistrates, mayors, members of the bar.”)

Sir A: Woman’s mind…has a very imperfect sense of proportion; accepts the congenial as true, and rejects the uncongenial as false…

R: Some do not know what truth means except in so far as they recognise it to avoid it, and would much prefer by crooked and underhand scheming to obtain what they could much more easily obtain in a straightforward manner.

Sir A: It would be difficult to find anyone who would trust a woman to be just to the rights of others in the case where…her children, or…a devoted husband, were involved.

R: The husband might be devoted but that would not make her just to him! Quite the reverse.

Sir A: And one would wish that, in a world which is rendered unwholesome by feminism, every girl’s eyes were opened to comprehend…the fact that…you find individual man showering upon individual woman…every good thing which, suffrage or no suffrage, she could never have procured for herself.

R: And if the man after suffering a lifetime of ingratitude, humiliations, and indignities finally gives up the contest and becomes indifferent, who so astonished as the fair lady! They mistake kindness for weakness and abuse it; and cannot believe even when warned that there is a limit to the burdens when piled high enough and long enough to what the greatest devotion can stand and at long last indifference may supervene. Then they may pretend to want it back again, only to again discard it so often as he is foolish enough to be taken in.

Sir A: …when the woman who remains in England comes to recognise that she can…give a willing subordination to the husband or father, who, when all is said and done, earns and lays up money for her.

R: Yes, but one can hardly hope for such a miracle.

Notes

Sir Almroth Wright (1861–1947) was a medical scientist and anti-suffragist who, like many in the medical profession, argued that women were incapable of voting because they were emotionally unstable and mentally weak. Suffragette militancy was the product of hysteria or the morbid moods of women of a certain age, and the suffragettes should be treated as lunatics. Sir Almroth characterised the suffragettes as “ungrateful women” - disappointed wives, spinsters in a state of retarded development, the sexually embittered, and those who want to have everything for nothing. He argued that since it was men who made money, owned property and paid the bulk of taxes, women were simply trying to snatch their property from them by demanding the vote and access to the professions and universities. He also pointed to a covenant between men and women: “I will do you reverence, and protect you,” promises man, “…and you…will hold fast to an ideal of gentleness, of personal refinement, of modesty, of joyous maternity…’ ”.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave all men over twenty-one the vote, but enfranchised only women over thirty who met a minimum property qualification, and women graduates over thirty. Full equality came with the Equal Franchise Act 1928 which gave women over twenty-one the vote.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Savage End

I’ve just read two fascinating works by Cicely Hamilton, actress, writer and suffragette and one of my feminist heroes. Hamilton (1872–1952) wrote the words to the suffragette anthem, The March of the Women, as well as a number of sharp, funny suffragette plays. She also wrote Diana of Dobson’s, a play about a shop girl who comes into some money, and Marriage as a Trade which railed against the Edwardian women’s enforced inability to support themselves in any other way but marriage.

The books are Theodore Savage, a novel published in 1922, and a play, The Old Adam, which had its first performance (as The Human Factor) at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1924, and later played at Kingsway, London. Like her 1919 novel, William: an Englishman both are concerned with war and man’s destructive, violent nature. Both could also be described as science fiction for the prominent role of technology in them.

In The Old Adam, two neighbouring fictional states are on the brink of war. Desperate to avert a conflict for which it is ill-prepared, the government of Paphlagonia accepts the help of a scientist who has invented a ray which will paralyse the enemy Ruritania’s machines. “Its lights will go out and its trains will stop short. Its factories will be idle…its new pattern electric rifles won’t go off”, gloats General Cunliffe. Panic will set in and the enemy will capitulate.

Unfortunately, the Government has not taken into account people’s enthusiasm for war. Inventors, moral campaigners, and women surgeons are eager to volunteer their help. Young men are keen to enlist. Even pacifists will feel cheated if the war is won peaceably by men they vilify. As Barton-Phipps, the Minister for War, remarks: “What they want is not only victory – they want a good fight for it first”. And, when the ray is switched on, they discover that Ruritania has the same technology. Both sides are paralysed. Undeterred, they improvise. Communication and transport systems are established: seaside donkeys and circus elephants are requisitioned. Battles are fought hand to hand with whatever is to hand: bayonets, spanners...After all, says Cunliffe, “Hannibal managed without motor cars and Scipio had never heard of high explosives”. And so the war goes ahead.

In the dystopian Theodore Savage there are no miraculous rays to stop the war caused by one belligerent state that a league of nations is powerless to control. This is a total war, waged not on army fronts but against civilians. Cities are bombed mercilessly. Both sides wait for the other to collapse but as every infrastructure breaks down and government fails there is no one left to negotiate peace. The war grinds to a halt, leaving only a displaced, wandering populace dying of starvation and disease, or slaughtering one another in fierce fights over dwindling food supplies. Mankind becomes feral and Theodore Savage, “with a thoughtful taste in socks and ties”, a collector of Hepplewhite furniture, colour prints and English glass, who is engaged to a dainty “porcelain girl”, ends his days as “a coarse-fingered labourer” living in a cabin.

The problem is, explains Markham a scientist, that people in the mass are destructive. “Almost any man, taken by himself is reasonable…so long as he stands outside a crowd”. Then he “is the instrument of instinctive emotion…man, as a herd, does not think…the crowd-life is still at the elementary, the animal stage”. It is the “human constitution…the periodic need of the human herd for something to break and for something to break itself against,” for a “periodic blood-letting”.

A bleak vision of humanity indeed – and perhaps it is true. In her books Hamilton raises questions about the uses of science, the nature of man and woman (women are not necessarily peaceable creatures), the dehumanising effect of suffering and the fragility and value of civilisation. Remarkable themes for remarkable works, delivered with Hamilton’s usual wit and passion.